Before I started writing this email, recording podcasts and doing this ‘content’ thing I’m now into, I used to run a walking holiday company.
You know the type. The ones which take cash in return to booking your holiday. If you are busy, and can afford it, and the thought of endless calling B&B’s only to be told they are full fills you with dread, then these companies are a lifeline.
I enjoyed the work, at least for a bit, and when I didn’t I hired somebody else to do it for me which worked out well.
I also stood out by doing things a little differently.
See, when I started I didn’t want to be like the 100 other companies all offering pretty much the same thing with a price difference of about £20.00 between them.
It’s really hard to differentiate yourself when you are almost guaranteed good reviews if you don’t fudge up a booking, and are nice and helpful for your customers.
And most achieve this in spades.
So I decided to make a business around the weak spot in the industry.
Why solo walkers are the worst customers
At least in the eyes of travel companies, you solo walkers are horrible customers. Not because you are actually horrible of course, but because you are a low-margin, high-maintenance customer.
The same amount of work needs to be done for you, as for a group of 2-3 people.
Rooms still need to be booked, information put together, transport arranged, but it’s just for you.
That’s particularly annoying when your ‘From’ price is actually based on two people sharing a room.
I get it. The industry prices in this way to advertise an attractive price.
Take a standard Hadrian’s Wall Path itinerary offered by almost all companies (including mine).
If you break down the cheapest price advertised, it’s somewhere between £70-£75.00 per person, per night, based on 2 people sharing a room.
Now, if you were going to offer that price to a solo walker, considering most rooms cost around £40-80 for solo walkers (yea, it varies pretty wildly depending on where you stay), then throw in luggage transfer for a fiver, and finally other associated hidden costs, you are probably running at a loss or if you are lucky you will break even. For a pair of walkers, companies will make a margin of around 30-40% depending on how cheap your accommodation is.
Businesses don’t like running at a loss.
So instead what happens is a ‘single supplement’ is added.
What that really means is that you are being charged extra for wanting to travel solo.
What other options do you have?
Well, you could choose to book with a ‘solo travel’ business? But most of the time they book you in a twin room with a stranger. Sure you get to choose whether you sleep in the same room mas a male, or female, but they could still snore, leave smelly socks on the floor next to your bed, and wee in the shower.
And that’s not really the spirit of solo travel is it…
My business did try to do things a bit differently. I charged a flat rate booking fee – It started at £7.00 per night, and eventually settled at £20.00 per night booked, then I booked stuff, and sent the bill for what I booked after. It worked, but left solo travelers not knowing how much they were going to pay at the end. It was a hard sell
Honestly then, there isn’t really an ideal solution. The fact of the matter is this. You will end up paying considerably more if you book with a company.
So where do you go from here?
The simple answer is to do your own booking
I know, it’s not really as easy as that. Going back to why we use these companies – convenience. They know where the best walker friendly places are, and can do the legwork for you. But is it worth it for the price?
For most of us, money doesn’t grow on trees and throwing cash at a company to essentially financially penalise you for doing the same work they would for two people isn’t ideal.
But allow me to be a bit more positive for just a moment.
You have the internet on your side. Yea thats right the INTERNET!
I’ll share a secret with you.
When booking my customers accommodations I often had never looked at the trail before. But using Booking.com and other big booking amangmators, I could book up places quickly and accurately.
There is just so much information online now. It’s just not quite as painful to DIY your own booking any longer.
So, if solo travel is your thing, and you like to sleep with a tile roof over your head, consider booking your own trip. But don’t forget to give a few travel companies a call first to complain about their prices.
But accommodation will still charge me extra!
Yes they will. But the best way around this is the search for single rooms. Double rooms are always priced with a loss in mind. After all, you couldn’t possibly want to enjoy a double bed by yourself without paying for it?
Book single, or if you want an insider tip, book for two nights and negotiate a better rate. I can assure you that in some cases an accommodation provider will happily skim a bit off the top if you stay for a few nights. On most established trails a 2 night booking is very welcome where most people stay for just one night – a hoteliers worst nightmare.
So that’s my insight into solo walking on long distance paths. What experiences have you had walking solo and trying to use companies or book yourself in? I would love to hear in the comments below!